Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker
Remember the backlash following former Academy president and two-time Best Director Oscar winner Robert Wise's ad asking Academy members to vote for Martin Scorsese's Miramax release Gangs of New York back in early 2003? You don't? Well, apparently neither does Voltage Pictures producer Nicolas Chartier, whose The Hurt Locker is the favorite to win this year's Best Picture Academy Award after bagging the BAFTA for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay, and top awards from the Producers Guild, the Directors Guild, and the Writers Guild. [See Robert Wise/Gangs of New York addendum below.]
Chartier, who is one of the Iraq War drama's Oscar-nominated producers along with Greg Shapiro, director Kathryn Bigelow, and journalist-turned-screenwriter Mark Boal, sent an e-mail to some Academy members asking for their vote while taking a direct swipe at his film's chief competitor, the blockbuster Avatar, directed, written, and co-produced by Bigelow's former husband James Cameron.
Here's Chartier's e-mail, as posted by Pete Hammond in the Los Angeles Times blog Notes on a Season:
I hope all is well with you. I just wanted to write you and say I hope you liked Hurt Locker and if you did and want us to win, please tell (name deleted) and your friends who vote for the Oscars, tell actors, directors, crew members, art directors, special effects people, if everyone tells one or two of their friends, we will win and not a $500M film, we need independent movies to win like the movies you and I do, so if you believe The Hurt Locker is the best movie of 2010 [sic], help us!
I'm sure you know plenty of people you've worked with who are academy members whethere [sic] a publicist, a writer, a sound engineer, please take 5 minutes and contact them. Please call one or two persons, everything will help!
Nicolas Chartier Voltage Pictures
Note: Fox insists Avatar cost about $200 million, though some reports claim the 3D sci-fi adventure did cost as much as $500 million. To date, according to Box Office Mojo Avatar has taken in $690 million domestically and $1.755 billion internationally for a grand total of $2.465 billion. The Hurt Locker cost $15 million; it grossed $12.6 million at the North American box office and $5.9 million overseas for a total of $18.5 million. In other words, The Hurt Locker grossed less than 1 percent of Avatar's worldwide take – and Avatar is still doing great business.
Chartier has since apologized by way of another e-mail, in which he takes full responsibility for the vote-soliciting e-mail (implying he didn't consult with anyone else), as posted on Tom O'Neil's Gold Derby:
Last week I emailed you regarding the Oscars next week, generally, and “The Hurt Locker,” in particular.
My email to you was out of line and not in the spirit of the celebration of cinema that this acknowledgement is. I was even more wrong, both personally and professionally, to ask for your help in encouraging others to vote for the film and to comment on another movie. As passionate as I am about the film we made, this was an extremely inappropriate email to send, and something that the Academy strongly disapproves of in the rules.
My naivete, ignorance of the rules and plain stupidity as a first time nominee is not an excuse for this behavior and I strongly regret it. Being nominated for an Academy Award is the ultimate honor and I should have taken the time to read the rules.
I am emailing each person this very same statement asking to retract my previous email and requesting that you please disregard it.
I truly apologize to anyone I have offended.
best regards, Nicolas Chartier Voltage Pictures, LLC
Here's the Academy rule regarding e-mail solicitations at Oscar time (curiously, I couldn't find an item on that page specifically pertaining to direct mailings):
E-mail that is sent to Academy members must adhere to the same regulations concerning content and appearance as direct mailings that are delivered by the post office or via other delivery methods. It may not extol the merits of a film, an achievement or an individual. It may not contain quotes from reviews about a film or an achievement, nor should it refer to other honors or awards, past or present, that have been received by either the film or those involved in the production or distribution of the film. Except as permitted in Regulation #5, e-mail to members may not include mention of, or links to, any Web site that promotes any eligible film.
Here's another Academy rule broken by Chartier's e-mail:
Ads, mailings, Web sites or any other forms of communication that attempt to promote a particular film or achievement by casting a negative or derogatory light on a competing film or achievement are not permitted. In particular, any tactic that singles out “the competition” by name or title is expressly forbidden.
What if Chartier had called Academy members instead of e-mailing them? That would have been even worse.
Contacting Academy members by telephone to promote a film or achievement is expressly forbidden, even if such contact is in the guise of checking to make sure a screener was received. Telephone calls to verify members' addresses are permitted, as long as no eligible films are discussed.
What kind of “punishment,” if any, Chartier will get remains unclear. The Hurt Locker will not be disqualified. That's a given. But the producer may have to give up on his Oscar night tickets. Or he may not. In any case, The Hurt Locker is considered the top contender for the Best Picture Academy Award and it's a lock for the Best Director Oscar. Here's wondering why Chartier would find it necessary to resort to such a desperate-sounding vote-soliciting e-mail.
By the way, Gangs of New York ended up getting zero Oscars despite its 10 nominations. Don't expect the same to happen to The Hurt Locker.
The Oscar 2010 drama will unfold on Sunday, March 7.
Addendum: Chartier's vote-soliciting e-mail is absolutely nothing compared to what the people behind Gangs of New York did seven years ago. After all, Robert Wise was a former Academy president whose newspaper ad turned out to be have been written by publicist Murray Weissman, then working for Miramax's Oscar campaign.
Photo: The Hurt Locker (Jonathan Olley / Summit Entertainment)